Jackson BOE President Palmeri Opines On NJ’s Failure To Address The ELL Gap In Education

The State of New Jersey is a great place to educate your children. A 2023 poll by U.S. News & World Report, ranked New Jersey #1 in Pre-K – 12 education, which factored in categories such as College Readiness, High School Graduation Rate, NAEP Math Scores, NAEP Reading Scores, and Preschool Enrollment (Rankings: Pre-K-12 – Best States for Childhood Education 2023). However, in NJ the S2 funding formula has caused many school districts to lose state aid. When districts lose anticipated funding, schools have no choice but to make difficult cuts to existing programming. At the same time, school districts, such as Jackson Township, have also seen an immense increase in English Language Learner (ELL) students which places an additional strain on already strained budgets.

ELL students enrolling into a new school district, many of whom know very limited or no English at all, are assimilated directly into a classroom. Although districts do employ ELL teachers, the majority of non-ELL teachers are not trained or equipped to handle students who don’t speak English. Furthermore, the increase in ELL population should be commensurate with an increase in properly trained ELL teachers. Unfortunately, the strained budgets are already reducing total teaching personnel, so hiring additional faculty members in ELL positions would further impact the budget strains. With this lack of funding and growing ELL population, many students, teachers, and school districts are being set-up for failure. When funds are not issued and cuts to programming take place, it can be argued that districts are now failing to provide each student with their constitutional right to a “thorough and efficient public education” and this has the potential to set students up for additional life challenges.

It can also be argued that the current model fails other students in many classrooms who are forced to wait on the teacher who is doing their best to communicate with ELL students. This snowball affects all students and many students are learning less, making them less prepared for the next chapter of their educational journey.

My proposal is simple. The State of New Jersey should develop a grant program much like the existing Pre- K program. This grant would be used to prepare a classroom, hire teachers and paraprofessionals, purchase materials, develop curriculums, and anything else required to properly educate a student in need of language support. Enrollment of ELL students would help to determine the grant allocation. In year one of the grant, the ELL student’s education in a given district would center on learning English with a designated certified bilingual teacher, broken down by age groups, with all the resources available to properly teach topics such as grammar, reading, speech, and writing. Year two of the grant, the ELL students would be evaluated to determine if they are prepared to enter into the appropriate grade based on age and education level. This method would set our ELL students up for success and would simultaneously allow for continuous learning in our non ELL classrooms.

Giusepe Palmeri

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